The Paradox of Providing

The definitions of need and luxury, as everyone would agree, differ from person to person and also from time to time for the same individual. As the most clichéd example, for a middleclass person, mobile phone not long ago, was a luxury whereas it is a need today and all communication seem to have concentrated through this device. However, the intention of writing this piece is not the distinction between the need and luxury but the paradox of deciding the same for those dependent on you and by this I primarily mean children. How do parents decide whether something is a need for their children or just another way of equating them to their peers. For a person with limited resources, it is a trivial question, for obvious reasons. However, for a person with sufficient (again a relative term) resources, it becomes important. Growing up in a middle class family I always observed my own parents struggling with this dilemma and I believe it is the same for most families.

Human beings spend on an average approximately 20-30 % (a rough conservative estimate) of their life time in ensuring the success of their off-springs. In mammals the responsibility of parental care is primarily borne by females, but in humans with time and evolution of the society this responsibility is becoming more and more bi-parental with both the sexes getting involved in the task of gathering the resources (read earning money) and utilizing it for the benefit of the offsprings. Under the assumption that the parents desire the best outcome of the parental investment it becomes rather crucial to understand how much and in what way to invest. This is what leads to struggle in the lives of parents, children and essentially the entire family dynamics.

At the risk of paraphrasing too much I would just mention a point made by David O Hume in his seminal work ” A Treatise of Human Nature “, that a person’s ideas are a reflection of the sum total of the impressions or experiences gained by that person. Behaviour of parents towards their children is no different and is always biased based on the experiences they have gained during their life. This is a quintessential feature of human behaviour and no matter how hard a person tries not to let those around her get affected by  her experiences it is impossible not to let a few prejudices creep in. Now, this fact in terms of a parent’s decision regarding judging parental investment becomes a defining factor. A simple example would suffice here, consider a person who has been brought up in difficult circumstances, with only a limited amount of resources at her disposal, such a person, going by the parental instinct would try her best to provide everything to her children that was denied to her due to lack of resources. It is understandable, but what is important here is the fact that in this attempt of providing all the things that she has been denied somewhere she is denying her children the capability to earn those things themselves as she had learnt. This gives rise to the paradox of fulfilling one’s dreams of ensuring a better and successful life for her offspring leading to lack of development of the same qualities in the offspring.

There are examples of both kinds in the world, where a person was given every possible affluence and still developed qualities like adaptation, creativity, hard work etc and where a lack of means led to development of such qualities. Although I believe that every individual is different and this entire discussion can be driven based on more variables drawn from actual life, however I also believe that there are some common grounds on which one can define the extent of parental care and then keep revising it as time proceeds like a feedback loop. Ultimately the most important thing is not to let the experiences in your life become a guideline for shaping the future of your children.


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